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What is Dialectic ?

Prepared by the Leningrad Institute of Philosophy under the Direction of
M. Shirokov 1941
Dialectical thought is the study of things in their relations and in process of development and change. " The opposite of dialectics is the isolated consideration of things, and the consideration of things only in their fixity." It is dialectical to look out for the special characteristics of a thing in a new set of relations and then to adapt one's forms of thought to the new form which reality has taken. Dialectics, there'­ fore, is not an abstract system of logic which men are asked to accept, it is necessary because the nature of the world requires it. There are no fixed properties in the concrete world, therefore there should be no fixed concepts in our science. There are no final scientific laws, therefore our thought must avoid dogmatic finality.

A rationalist may try to make out that nature shows a smooth continuous progression from simple to complex in which the higher, if we knew enough detail, could be predicted from the lower. But this conception of uniformity is one of those static moulds into which man pours his thought and in doing so does violence to reality. For nature is not continuous but discontinuous. It cannot be reduced to mere variations of one fundamental reality. In reality there is novelty and therefore gaps between the old and the new. Now if by reason itself one means precisely con­tinuity and unchangeability then nature is irrational. Dialectics, however, challenges this conception of reason and moulds thought to the changing surface of events.

In other words it gives us a conception of reason derived from the living nature of reality, not from a man-made · static logic.

Non-dialectical thinking, on the other hand, is always getting itself into difficulties. How, for instance, is the control of the physiological mechanism by mind to be explained ? Static thinking finds it difficult to show how mind can possibly affect matter except by a miracle. That is because by matter is meant a physiological mechanism such as is found before mind has anything to do with it. Such matter is mindless. But since mind certainly exists, and since it has nothing to do with mindless organic matter, it must be a thing apart, pure mind. The riddle then is how mind and matter interact. There would be no riddle but for static thinking. Dialectical thought allows the concept of matter to change from one evolutionary level to another. At one level matter is mindless, at the next it is minded. Matter itself thinks when organized in a brain. Because the properties of matter outside the grey matter of the brain do not include thought, that is not to say that in the unique set of conditions which obtain in the brain quite new properties may not emerge.

Dialectical thinkiiig is particularly important in politics. There it is often called realism. Instead of trying to force social change according to certain abstract ideals, the realist is bound to take the situation as it is at its particular stage of development and frame his policies accordingly.

Quixotic idealists are anti-dialectical. Good tacticians,men of shrewd practical judgment think dialectically, not abstractly.

Every successful scientist, engineer and physician is a dialectician because his thought conforms to the stuff he works in and enables him to handle it. He cannot do his thinking in isolation from reality.
Dialectical thinking is not an esoteric secret, it is simply the way to think in relation to the world one wishes to control, therefore it can be said that all effective thinking is dialectical.

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